Can’t get into WWDC? AltConf provides free alternative to developers for first time in San Jose

Amid the hustle and bustle of the Worldwide Developers Conference at McEnery Convention Center, an oasis of relative peace and calm lies on the second floor of the Marriott next door, overlooking down onto the convention center.

Welcome to AltConf, short for “Alternative Conference.” Like the WWDC, the conference is packed with third-party developers who develop apps and software for the Mac and the iPhone. But unlike Apple’s annual conference, which costs $1,599 a ticket for those lucky enough to win the lottery, AltConf is free and open to everyone interested.

After years orbiting around the WWDC in Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, AltConf moved down to San Jose with Apple. Created in 2007 after the WWDC — once a sleepy conference reserved for hardcore Apple developers — blew up in popularity after the iPhone was introduced and became unaffordable for many indie developers, AltConf hosted in San Jose for the first time ever.

“San Jose has been amazing. The venue and the facilities have been top notch,” said co-founder Rob Elkin. “We are hoping to turn this into like the South by Southwest of Apple.”

AltConf is not officially affiliated with Apple or the WWDC but maintains a cordial relationship with the company, according to its organizers. Before the keynote speech on Monday morning, Apple and AltConf coordinated to manage the lines outside. AltConf streamed the two-and-a-half-hour keynote speech in a conference room to a crowd of more than 600 people.

The 2017 AltConf t-shirt highlights its first year in San Jose. (Courtesy AltConf)

“There is this buzz that our attendees and everyone feeds off when they stand in line next to each other on Monday morning,” said organizer Anna Crook. “We are streaming next door to the real keynote speech, and you can hear the clapping in the live keynote before you hear it on the stream.”

The crowd — easily more than 1,000 have visited AltConf, according to Elkin — is a mixed bag in relation to WWDC, nicknamed “Dub Dub” by developers. Some come to AltConf because they did not win the lottery but made plans to visit anyway.

Some exclusively come for AltConf, which provides a more open-source, forward-looking atmosphere that they feel line up closer to Steve Jobs’ Apple of yore.

AltConf, which runs until Thursday, is lined up with speakers, hands-on labs and after-hour social mixers and parties that blend in with WWDC attendees and other Apple-related conferences in town, like CocoaConf and Layers.

Some say they get more educational value out of talks and labs in Altconf than at WWDC because it covers a wider breadth and does not have a top-down structure between the Apple engineers and visiting developers.

“Apple tends to talk only about Apple things at WWDC,” said Ed Arenberg, chief technology officer for EPage, who gave a talk at AltConf on Wednesday titled “Solving Intractable Problems.”

“You hear way beyond here (at Altconf) that goes into business models and engineering. It helps developers broaden their horizon beyond Apple technology.”

Other technology companies and even Apple competitors have taken note. In the corridor on the second floor, Microsoft, IBM, Atlassian and Twilio set up booths handing out swag and recruiting possible talents.

AltConf organizers and developers emphasize that their values of diversity and inclusivity where everybody is welcome is the key pillar that defines the event. The website for the conference lists a long no-harassment policy that affirms the organizers’ commitment to welcoming all interested.

“It’s part of the DNA of AltConf,” said developer Ken Case. “There are no barriers here.”

Photo: AltConf was held at the Marriott hotel right next to McEnery Convention Center, where Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference was held. (Courtesy AltConf)


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